After years of experience, holding several administrative positions as a lecturer and Professor in Mechanical Engineering at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaira, Kaduna State, Prof Eli Jidere Bala’s know-how in the energy and power sector has helped him weathered the storm at every position he has occupied.
The Gombe State born, who is the DG/CEO of Energy Commission of Nigeria, spoke to Zaaki Azzay, on issues militating against the energy sector that has kept it crawling, despite huge investment by different governments and private bodies. Among other national issues, he analysed how renewable energy might take over the country in 2030, due to reduction on combusted energy into the sky.
What is the purpose and aim of Energy Commission?
Energy is essential for development. This commission was established in 1979, but it started operation in 1989. Before it started operation ten years later, the heads of ECOWAS met in 1982 to discuss the importance of creating a government agency which would coordinate and supervise energy commission of each member state. In 1989, we started operation from Lagos holding on to the major responsibility of strategic planning and coordination of national policies in the field of energy, in all its ramifications. We gather and disseminate information on national policies and energy development. We collate, analyse and publish information relating to energy development from all energy sources. We also monitor the performance of the energy sector; we are involved in manpower for the energy sector and liaise with other international energy organisations on behalf of the country. Since 1982, when the heads of ECOWAS met, only Nigeria and Ghana have so far established energy commission.
Nigeria and Ghana, but Ghana has constant power supply. How is this so?
I can’t say Ghana that has sufficient electricity supply by referring to electricity by just power. Energy is beyond just electricity. Electricity is just one aspect of the component of the final energy that we need. There are three basic areas of need, which are electricity, fuels and heat. A lot of the power plant, we get electricity from heat energy. Like a gas power plant, the gas is the component that contains energy. Temperature and pressure Energy is not just electricity. The fuels are from hydrocarbons that need greenhouse gasses.
The Nigerian economy needs stable power supply for speedy growth. Why has past political leaders failed to achieve this? Is it an impossible task?
First and foremost, for you to achieve your objective, we must plan. The reason why this commission was established is for strategic planning in the power and energy sector. We realised that it was business as usual when government was involved in production, transmission and distribution of electricity. The way the economy was, it wouldn’t take us to the promise land. Like you rightly said, there is no development without adequate and reliable energy supply in the economy.
here is nothing we can do without energy, including human comfort, the health care delivery and other essential services all need energy to survive. To effectively give us the best result, the government handed it over to the private sector.
The electricity sector was fully privatised in 2013. It needs huge investments. It has not been generating revenues to help them sustain the service into the economy.
From all you have said, does it mean that the private sector does not have what it takes to take over from the government?
They don’t have the enabling environment from the point of view of pricing. Electricity prices are low in the manner that does not allow for proper investment in the sector to help improve the services. If you increase the quality of your product or services, you will recoup this money in a given time.
What happened to the free meters we were promised before privatisation? Can it be that they are not making profits because people are cutting corners because of the broken promises?
If you are in business, and you have a product to sell, I believe that it is your responsibility to ensure that you collect the money for the services that you are providing. The meters are the instruments that will help the distribution company collect their revenue.
The government provided a means to get the meters around to consumers to reduce the challenge of revenue collection. The government provides an enabling environment through policies and regulation. The regulators of how these meters and standard electricity components is Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA) but the entire sector’s pricing, tariffing and licensing is done by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC)
How can we maximise other sources of power like the solar and wind energy in Nigeria?
The market projects are driven by the Federal Ministry of Power through the Rural Electrification Agency (REA). The idea is to increase energy access in a reliable and cost effective manner through off grids, using renewable sources. It is good because solar is free and the cost of converting solar energy into electricity technology is available now and most importantly, it is climate friendly. Unlike diesel and fuel which I mentioned earlier about global warming and greenhouse gases
In 2015, there was an agreement where the world agreed to work towards transiting from high carbon energy sources to low carbon energy sources. So that by 2030, we can get the degree of the environment that shouldn’t be more than two degree centigrade because the target we have is one point five centigrade. Therefore, there must be a transition from fossils to renewable (solar, wind and hydro) energy.
What kind of government policy does the Energy Commission need to facilitate the purpose of the commission?
With the emergence of the commission, we have been able to put together a single document known as the “national energy policy”. It explains to Nigerians the direction in which the government wants to develop the energy sector. It defines the policy objectives and direction. Primarily, the energy sector should be developed with the active participation of the private sector. It is a policy statement that is encompassing. We believe that it is the private sector that will take us to the promise land.
In what way has the Energy Commission of Nigeria educated the citizens about energy conservation?
If what we have for electrical energy is about 3000 MHz for two hundred million people it won’t go a long way. We educate people on efficient energy. The concept of efficiency is a universal concept in all our dealings. There are a lot of appliances that will give you the cooling you need with a little amount of electricity. These are issues we promote, research into and educate people about so that we stop using old systems. One of the major challenges we have with the distribution agency is that most of the equipment are old and obsolete.
As a fellow member in the Nigerian Academy of Engineering, most of the major projects like road construction, buildings and even power plants are always contracted to foreigners. Is this to say that Nigerian engineers are not competent to handle such projects?
The government has recognised that, and in the Energy Commission Policy, we have raised a concept of local content and indigenous participation. Local content has become an inherent issue now even in the oil and gas. I am very certain that things will change now that the government has put up policies for local content.
What are your thoughts on the high rate of unemployment of graduates in the country?
Ultimately, if you are educated, the question raised would be, “what do you do for the society?” a lot of the things that needed to be done for the society come from skills. Education is important, but skills are very important and emphasis is being made about this in the university. I also believe that even in acquiring the skills, one needs to be certified. At the end of the day, what matters most is your output.
Looking back over the years at all your achievements? What would you advise those who are in position of leadership today?
Leadership is a service to the society that requires honesty because you are bestowed with so much responsibility. It is required that one should be God-fearing. Don’t misuse the power given to you for the common good. You should be law-abiding; leadership should not be seen as an instrument to amass wealth. There should be sincerity of purpose.
How would you describe a true Nigerian?
They are a group of people or persons with a vision for the peace and unity of the country at heart. A true Nigerian is one with the objective of promoting the interest of Nigeria.